The Bent Twig
Part 2 out of 9
More than that Sylvia could not remember, even when she was asked
later to repeat as much as she could of what she had heard. She was
resolving when she was grown-up to have a ruffle of creamy lace
falling away from her neck and wrists as Aunt Victoria did. She had
not only forgotten Arnold's story, she had forgotten that such a boy
existed. She was living in a world all made up of radiance and bloom,
lace and sunshine and velvet, and bright hair and gleaming cloth and
smooth voices and the smell of violets.
After a time she was aware that Professor Saunders shook hands and
turned back up the steps. Aunt Victoria began to move with her slow
grace along the road towards home, and Sylvia to follow, soaking
herself in an impression of supreme suavity.
When, after the walk through the beech-woods, they reached the edge of
the Marshall field, they saw a stiff plume of blue smoke stand up over
the shack by the garden and, as they approached, heard a murmur of
voices. Mrs. Marshall-Smith stopped, furled her parasol, and surveyed
the scene within. Her sister-in-law, enveloped in a large blue apron,
by no means fresh, sat beside a roughly built table, peeling
tomatoes, her brown stained fingers moving with the rapidity of a
prestidigitator's. Judith stood beside her, also attacking the pile of
crimson fruit, endeavoring in vain to emulate her mother's speed. Over
the hot, rusty stove hung Arnold, red-faced and bright-eyed, armed
with a long, wooden spatula which he continually dug into the steaming
contents of an enormous white-lined kettle. As, at the arrival of
the new-comers, Mrs. Marshall's voice stopped, he looked around and
frowned impatiently at his stepmother. "She's just got to the excitin'
part," he said severely, and to the raconteur eagerly, "'N'_en_ what?"
Mrs. Marshall looked up at her husband's sister, smiled, and went
on,--Sylvia recognized the story as one of her own old favorites.
"Well, it was very early dawn when she had to go over to the
neighbor's to borrow some medicine for her father, who kept getting
sicker all the time. As she hurried along across the meadow towards
the stile, she kept wondering, in spite of herself, if there was any
truth in what Nat had said about having seen bear tracks near the
house the day before. When she got to the stile she ran up the
steps--and on the top one she stood still, for there--" She made
a dramatic pause and reached for another tray of tomatoes. Arnold
stopped stirring the pot and stood motionless, his eyes fixed on
the narrator, the spatula dripping tomato-juice all along his white
trousers. "There on the other side, looking up at her, was a bear--a
big black bear."
Arnold's mouth dropped open and his eyes widened.
"My grandmother was dreadfully frightened. She was only seventeen, and
she hadn't any kind of a weapon, not so much as a little stick with
her. Her first idea was to turn and run as fast as she could, back
home. But she remembered how sick her father was, and how much he
needed the medicine; and then besides, she used to say, all of a
sudden it made her angry, all over, to have that great stupid animal
get in her way. She always said that nothing 'got her mad up' like
feeling afraid. So what do you suppose she did?"
Arnold could only shake his head silently in an ecstasy of impatience
for the story to continue. Judith and Sylvia smiled at each other with
the insufferable complacence of auditors who know the end by heart.
"She just pointed her finger at the bear, and she said in a loud,
harsh voice: 'Shame! Shame! Shame on you! For sha-a-ame!' She'd taught
district school, you know, and had had lots of practice saying that
to children who had been bad. The bear looked up at her hard for
a minute, then dropped his head and began to walk slowly away.
Grandmother always said, 'The great lummox lumbered off into the
bushes like a gawk of a boy who's been caught in mischief,' She waited
just a minute and then ran like lightning along the path through the
woods to the neighbors and got the medicine."
The story was evidently over, the last tomato was peeled. Mrs.
Marshall rose, wiping her stained and dripping hands on her apron,
and went to the stove. Arnold started as if coming out of a dream
and looked about him with wondering eyes. "Well,
what-d'you-think-o'-_that?_" he commented, all in one breath. "Say,
Mother," he went on, looking up at her with trusting eyes, searching
the quiet face, "what do you suppose _made_ the bear go away? You
wouldn't think a little thing like that would scare a _bear_!"
Mrs. Marshall began dipping the hot, stewed tomatoes into the glass
jars ready in a big pan of boiling water on the back of the stove. The
steam rose up, like a cloud, into her face, which began to turn red
and to glisten with perspiration. "Oh, I don't suppose it really
frightened the bear," she said moderately, refraining from the
dramatic note of completeness which her husband, in spite of himself,
gave to everything he touched, and adding instead the pungent, homely
savor of reality, which none relished more than Sylvia and her father,
incapable themselves of achieving it. "'Most likely the bear would
have gone away of his own accord anyhow. They don't attack people
unless they're stirred up." Arnold bit deeply into the solidity of
this unexaggerated presentation, and was silent for a moment, saying
then: "Well, anyhow, she didn't _know_ he'd go away! She was a sport,
"Oh yes, indeed," said Mrs. Marshall, dipping and steaming, and wiping
away the perspiration, which ran down in drops to the end of her
large, shapely nose. "Yes, my grandmother was a sport, all right." The
acrid smell of hot, cooking tomatoes filled the shed and spread to the
edge where Sylvia and her aunt stood, still a little aloof. Although
it bore no resemblance to the odor of violets, it could not be called
a disgusting smell: it was the sort of smell which is quite agreeable
when one is very hungry. But Sylvia was not hungry at all. She stepped
back involuntarily. Mrs. Marshall-Smith, on the contrary, advanced a
step or so, until she stood close to her sister-in-law. "Barbara, I'd
like to see you a few minutes without the children," she remarked in
the neutral tone she always had for her brother's wife. "A rather
unpleasant occurrence--I'm in something of a quandary."
Mrs. Marshall nodded. "All right," she agreed. "Scatter out of here,
you children! Go and let out the hens, and give them some water!"
Arnold needed no second bidding, reminded by his stepmother's words
of his experiences of the morning. He and Judith scampered away in
a suddenly improvised race to see who would reach the chicken-house
first. Sylvia went more slowly, looking back once or twice at the
picture made by the two women, so dramatically contrasted--her mother,
active, very upright, wrapped in a crumpled and stained apron, her
dark hair bound closely about her round head, her moist, red face and
steady eyes turned attentively upon the radiant creature beside her,
cool and detached, leaning willow-like on the slender wand of the
Professor Marshall chanced to be late that day in coming home for
luncheon, and Aunt Victoria and Arnold had returned to the hotel
without seeing him. His wife remarked that Victoria had asked her
to tell him something, but, acting on her inviolable principle that
nothing must interfere with the cheerful peace of mealtime, said
nothing more to him until after they had finished the big plate of
purple grapes from her garden, with which the meal ended.
Then Judith vanished out to the shop, where she was constructing a
rabbit-house for the latest family. Sylvia took Lawrence, yawning and
rubbing his eyes, but fighting desperately against his sleepiness,
upstairs for his nap. When this task fell to Judith's lot it was
despatched with business-like promptness, but Lawrence had early
discovered a temperamental difference between his two sisters, and
Sylvia was seldom allowed to leave the small bed until she had paid
tribute to her ever-present desire to please, in the shape of a story
or a song. On that day Buddy was more exacting than usual. Sylvia told
the story of Cinderella and sang, "A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go," twice
through, before the little boy's eyes began to droop. Even then, the
clutch of his warm, moist fingers about her hand did not relax. When
she tried to slip her fingers out of his, his eyelids fluttered open
and he tightened his grasp with a wilful frown. So she sat still on
the edge of his bed, waiting till he should be really asleep.
From the dining-room below her rose the sound of voices, or rather of
one voice--her father's. She wondered why it sounded so angry, and
then, mixed with some unintelligible phrases--"turned out on the
street, in trouble--in a foreign land--Good God!" she caught Pauline's
name. Oh yes, that must be the trouble. Mother was telling Father
about Pauline--whatever it was she had done--and he was as mad about
it as Aunt Victoria had been. If Aunt Victoria's voice had sounded
like that, she didn't wonder that Arnold had hidden under the bed. If
she could have moved, she, too, would have run away, although the
idea that she ought to do so did not occur to her. There had been no
secrets in that house. The talk had always been for all to hear who
But when she tried again to slip her hand away from Buddy's the little
boy pulled at it hard, and half opening his eyes, said sleepily,
"Sylvie stay with Buddy--Sylvie stay--" Sylvia yielded weakly, said:
"Yes--sh! sh! Sister'll stay. Go to sleep, Buddy."
From below came the angry voice, quite loud now, so that she caught
every queer-sounding word--"righteous indignation indeed! What else
did _she_ do, I'd like to know, when she wanted money. The only
difference was that she was cold-blooded enough to extract a legal
status from the old reprobate she accosted."
Sylvia heard her mother's voice saying coldly, "You ought to be
ashamed to use such a word!" and her father retort, "It's the _only_
word that expresses it! You know as well as I do that she cared no
more for Ephraim Smith than for the first man she might have solicited
on the street--nor so much! God! It makes me sick to look at her and
think of the price she paid for her present damn Olympian serenity."
Sylvia heard her mother begin to clear off the table. There was a
rattle of dishes through which her voice rose impatiently. "Oh,
Elliott, why be so melodramatic always, and spoil so much good
language! She did only what every girl brought up as she was, would
have done. And, anyhow, are you so very sure that in your heart
you're not so awfully hard on her because you're envious of that very
He admitted, with acrimony, the justice of this thrust. "Very likely.
Very likely!--everything base and mean in me, that you keep down,
springs to life in me at her touch. I dare say I do envy her--I'm
quite capable of that--am I not her brother, with the same--"
Mrs. Marshall said hastily: "Hush! Hush! Here's Judith. For Heaven's
sake don't let the child hear you!"
For the first time the idea penetrated Sylvia's head that she ought
not to have listened. Buddy was now soundly asleep: she detached her
hand from his, and went soberly along the hall into her own room. She
did not want to see her father just then.
A long time after, Mother called up to say that Aunt Victoria had come
for her afternoon drive, and to leave Arnold. Sylvia opened the door a
crack and asked, "Where's Father?"
"Oh, gone back to the University this long time," answered her mother
in her usual tone. Sylvia came down the stairs slowly and took her
seat in the carriage beside Aunt Victoria with none of her usual
demonstrative show of pleasure.
"Don't you like my dress?" asked Aunt Victoria, as they drove away.
"You don't even notice it, and I put it on 'specially to please
you--you're the one discriminating critic in this town!" As Sylvia
made no answer to this sally, she went on: "It's hard to get into
alone, too. I had to ask the hotel chambermaid to hook it up on the
Thus reminded of Pauline, Sylvia could have but inattentive eyes for
the creation of amber silk and lace, and brown fur, which seductively
clad the handsome body beside her.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith gave her favorite a penetrating look. "What's the
matter with you, Sylvia?" she asked in the peremptory note which her
sweet voice of many modulations could startlingly assume on occasion.
Sylvia had none of Judith's instant pugnacious antagonism to any
peremptory note. She answered in one imploring rush of a question,
"Aunt Victoria, why should _Father_ be so very mad at Pauline?"
Mrs. Marshall-Smith looked a little startled at this direct reference
to the veiled storm-center of the day, but not at all displeased. "Oh,
your mother told him? Was he so very angry?" she asked with a slight
"Oh, dreadfully!" returned Sylvia. "I didn't _mean_ to listen, but I
couldn't help it. Buddy wouldn't go to sleep and Father's voice was so
loud--and he got madder and madder at her." She went on with another
question, "Auntie, who was Ephraim Smith?"
Aunt Victoria turned upon her in astonishment, and did not, for a
moment, answer; then: "Why, that was the name of my husband, Sylvia.
What has that to do with anything?"
"Why didn't Pauline like him?" asked Sylvia.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith replied with a vivacity of surprise which carried
her out of her usual delicate leisure in speech. "_Pauline?_ Why, she
never saw him in her life! _What_ are you talking about, child?"
"But, Father said--I thought--he seemed to mean--" Sylvia halted, not
able to remember in her bewilderment what it had been that Father had
said. In a blur of doubt and clouded perceptions she lost all definite
impression of what she had heard. Evidently, as so often happened, she
had grown-ups' affairs all twisted up in her mind. Aunt Victoria was
touched with kindly amusement at the little girl's face of perplexity,
and told her, dismissing the subject: "Never mind, dear, you evidently
misunderstood something. But I wonder what your father could have said
to give you such a funny idea."
Sylvia gave it up, shaking her head. They turned into the main street
of La Chance, and Aunt Victoria directed the coachman to drive them to
"the" drug store of town, and offered Sylvia her choice of any soda
water confection she might select. This completed the "about-face" of
the mobile little mind. After several moments of blissful anguish of
indecision, Sylvia decided on a peach ice-cream soda, and thereafter
was nothing but sense of taste as she ecstatically drew through a
straw the syrupy, foamy draught of nectar. She took small sips at a
time and held them in the back of her mouth till every minute bubble
of gas had rendered up its delicious prickle to her tongue. Her
consciousness was filled to its uttermost limits with a voluptuous
sense of present physical delight.
And yet it was precisely at this moment that from her subconscious
mind, retracing with unaided travail a half-forgotten clue, there
sprang into her memory a complete phrase of what her father had said.
She gave one more suck to the straw and laid it aside for a moment
to say in quite a comfortable accent to her aunt: "Oh yes, now I
remember. He said she didn't care for him any more than for the first
man she might have solicited in the street." For an instant the words
came back as clearly as though they had just been uttered, and she
repeated them fluently, returning thereupon at once to the charms of
the tall, foam-filled frosted glass.
Evidently Aunt Victoria did not follow this sudden change of subject,
for she asked blankly, "_Who_? Who didn't care for who?"
"Why, I supposed, Pauline for Ephraim Smith. It was that that made
Father so mad," explained Sylvia, sucking dreamily, her eyes on
the little maelstrom created in the foaming liquid by the straw,
forgetting everything else. The luxurious leisure in which she
consumed her potation made it last a long time, and it was not until
her suction made only a sterile rattling in the straw that she looked
up at her aunt to thank her.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith's face was averted and she did not turn it back
as she said, "Just run along into the shop and leave your glass,
Sylvia--here is the money."
After Sylvia took her seat again in the carriage, the coachman turned
the horse's head back up the Main Street. "Aren't you going to the
campus?" asked Sylvia in surprise.
"No, we are going to the hotel," said Aunt Victoria. She spoke
quietly, and seemed to look as usual, but Sylvia's inner barometer
fell fast with a conviction of a change in the emotional atmosphere.
She sat as still as possible, and only once glanced up timidly at
her aunt's face. There was no answering glance. Aunt Victoria gazed
straight in front of her. Her face looked as it did when it was being
massaged--all smooth and empty. There was, however, one change. For
the first time that day, she looked a little pale.
As the carriage stopped in front of the onyx-lined, palm-decorated,
plate-glass-mirrored "entrance hall" of the expensive hotel, Aunt
Victoria descended, motioning to Sylvia not to follow her. "I haven't
time to drive any more this afternoon," she said. "Peter will take you
home. And have him bring Arnold back at once." She turned away and, as
Sylvia sat watching her, entered the squirrel-cage revolving door of
glass, which a little boy in livery spun about for her.
But after she was inside the entrance hall, she signified to him that
she had forgotten something, and came immediately out again. What
she had forgotten surprised Sylvia as much as it touched her. Aunt
Victoria came rapidly to the side of the carriage and put out her
arms. "Come here, dear," she said in a voice Sylvia had never
heard her use. It trembled a little, and broke. With her quick
responsiveness, Sylvia sprang into the outstretched arms, overcome by
the other's emotion. She hid her face against the soft, perfumed laces
and silk, and heard from beneath them the painful throb of a quickly
Mrs. Marshall-Smith held her niece for a long moment and then turned
the quivering little face up to her own grave eyes, in which Sylvia,
for all her inexperience, read a real suffering. Aunt Victoria looked
as though somebody were hurting her--hurting her awfully--Sylvia
pressed her cheek hard against her aunt's, and Mrs. Marshall-Smith
felt, soft and Warm and ardent on her lips, the indescribably fresh
kiss of a child's mouth. "Oh, little Sylvia!" she cried, in that
new, strange, uncertain voice which trembled and broke, "Oh, little
Sylvia!" She seemed to be about to say something more, said in fact in
"I hope--I hope--" but then shook her head, kissed Sylvia gently, put
her back in the carriage, and again disappeared through the revolving
This time she did not turn back. She did not even look back. After a
moment's wait, Peter gathered up the reins and Sylvia, vaguely uneasy,
and much moved, drove home in a solitary state, which she forgot to
The next morning there was no arrival, even tardy, of the visitors
from the hotel. Instead came a letter, breaking the startling news
that Aunt Victoria had been called unexpectedly to the East, and had
left on the midnight train, taking Arnold with her, of course. Judith
burst into angry expressions of wrath over the incompleteness of the
cave which she and Arnold had been excavating together. The next day
was the beginning of school, she reminded her auditors, and she'd have
no time to get it done! Never! She characterized Aunt Victoria as a
mean old thing, an epithet for which she was not reproved, her mother
sitting quite absent and absorbed in the letter. She read it over
twice, with a very puzzled air, which gave an odd look to her usually
crystal-clear countenance. She asked her husband one question as he
went out of the door. "You didn't see Victoria yesterday--or say
anything to her?" to which he answered, with apparently uncalled-for
heat, "I did _not_! I thought it rather more to the purpose to try to
look up Pauline."
Mrs. Marshall sprang up and approached him with an anxious face. He
shook his head: "Too late. Disappeared. No trace."
She sat down again, looking sad and stern.
Professor Marshall put on his hat with violence, and went away.
When he came home to luncheon there was a fresh sensation, and again
a disagreeable one. He brought the astounding news that, at the very
beginning of the semester's work, he had been deserted by his most
valuable assistant, and abandoned, apparently forever, by his
most-loved disciple. Saunders had left word, a mere laconic note, that
he had accepted the position left vacant by the dismissal of Arnold's
tutor, and had entered at once upon the duties of his new position.
Professor Marshall detailed this information in a hard, level voice,
and without further comment handed his wife Saunders' note. She read
it rapidly, this time with no perplexity, and laid it down, saying to
her husband, briefly, "Will you kindly remember that the children are
Judith looked at Sylvia in astonishment, this being the first time
that that well-worn phrase, so familiar to most children, had ever
been heard in the Marshall house. Why shouldn't Father remember they
were there? Couldn't he _see_ them? Judith almost found the idea funny
enough to laugh at, although she had not at all in general Sylvia's
helpless response to the ridiculous. Sylvia did not laugh now. She
looked anxiously at her father's face, and was relieved when he only
answered her mother's exhortation by saying in a low tone: "Oh, I have
nothing to say. It's beyond words!"
Luncheon went on as usual, with much chatter among the children. Some
time later--in the midst of a long story from Lawrence, Mrs. Marshall
herself brought up the subject again. Buddy was beginning to struggle
with the narrative form of self-expression, and to trip his tongue
desperately over the tenses. He had just said, "And the rabbit _was_
naughty, didn't he was?" when his mother exclaimed, addressing her
husband's grim face, "Good Heavens, don't take it so hard, Elliott."
He raised an eyebrow, but did not look up from the pear he was
eating. "To be responsible, as I feel I am, for the pitching into a
_cul-de-sac_ of the most promising young--"
His wife broke in, "_Responsible_! How in the world are _you_
responsible!" she added quickly, as if at random, to prevent the reply
which her husband was evidently about to cast at her. "Besides, how do
_you_ know?--one never knows how things will turn out--she may--she
may marry him, and he may have a life which will give him more leisure
for investigation than if--"
Professor Marshall wiped his lips violently on his napkin and stood
up. "Nothing would induce her to marry him--or any one else. She's
extracted from marriage all she wants of it. No, she'll just keep him
trailing along, in an ambiguous position, sickened and tantalized and
fevered, till all the temper is drawn out of him--and then hell be
He turned away with an impatient fling of his head. His wife stood up
now and looked at him anxiously. "Go play us something on the piano,"
she urged. This was not a common exhortation from her. She cared very
little for music, and with her usual honesty she showed, as a rule, a
very passive attitude towards it.
Professor Marshall glanced at her with a flash of anger. "Sometimes
you count too much on my childishness, Barbara," he said resentfully,
and went out of the door without further words.
Decidedly the discomposing effect of Aunt Victoria's visit lasted even
after she had gone away. But the next day was the beginning of the
school term, the busy, regular routine was taken up, Sylvia was
promoted to the 5A grade, and at home Father let her begin to learn
the Pilgrim's Chorus, from Tannhauser.
Life for the eager little girl moved quickly forward at its usual
brisk pace, through several years to come.
"WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT ..."
The public school to which the Marshall children went as soon as they
were old enough was like any one of ten thousand public schools--a
large, square, many-windowed, extravagantly ugly building, once red
brick, but long ago darkened almost to black by soft-coal smoke. About
it, shaded by three or four big cottonwood-trees, was an inclosed
space of perhaps two acres of ground, beaten perfectly smooth by
hundreds of trampling little feet, a hard, bare earthen floor, so
entirely subdued to its fate that even in the long summer vacation no
spear of grass could penetrate its crust to remind it that it was made
of common stuff with fields and meadows.
School began at nine o'clock in the morning and, as a rule,
three-fourths of the children had passed through the front gate twenty
or thirty minutes earlier. Nobody knew why it should be considered
such a hideous crime to be "tardy," but the fact was that not the most
reckless and insubordinate of the older boys cared to risk it. Any
one of the four hundred children in any public school in the city
preferred infinitely to be absent a day than to have the ghastly
experience of walking through deserted streets (that is, with no
children on them), across the empty playground frighteningly unlike
itself, into the long, desolate halls which, walk as cat-like as one
might, resounded to the guilty footsteps with accusing echoes. And
then the narrow cloakroom, haunted with limp, hanging coats and caps
and hats, and finally the entry into the schoolroom, seated rank on
rank with priggishly complacent schoolmates, looking up from their
books with unfriendly eyes of blame at the figure of the late-comer.
AH over that section of La Chance, during the hour between half-past
seven and half-past eight in the morning, the families of school
children were undergoing a most rigorous discipline in regularity
and promptness. No child was too small or too timid to refrain from
embittering his mother's life with clamorous upbraidings if breakfast
were late, or his school-outfit of clothes were not ready to the last
button, so that he could join the procession of schoolward-bound
children, already streaming past his door at a quarter past eight. The
most easy-going and self-indulgent mother learned to have at least one
meal a day on time; and the children themselves during those eight
years of their lives had imbedded in the tissue of their brains and
the marrow of their bones that unrebelling habit of bending
their backs daily to a regular burden of work not selected by
themselves--which, according to one's point of view, is either the
bane or the salvation of our modern industrial society.
The region where the school stood was inhabited, for the most part, by
American families or German and Irish ones so long established as to
be virtually American; a condition which was then not infrequent in
moderate-sized towns of the Middle West and which is still by no means
unknown there. The class-rolls were full of Taylors and Aliens and
Robinsons and Jacksons and Websters and Rawsons and Putnams, with
a scattering of Morrisseys and Crimminses and O'Hearns, and some
Schultzes and Brubackers and Helmeyers. There was not a Jew in the
school, because there were almost none in that quarter of town, and,
for quite another reason, not a single negro child. There were plenty
of them in the immediate neighborhood, swarming around the collection
of huts and shanties near the railroad tracks given over to negroes,
and known as Flytown. But they had their own school, which looked
externally quite like all the others in town, and their playground,
beaten bare like that of the Washington Street School, was filled
with laughing, shouting children, ranging from shoe-black through
coffee-color to those occasional tragic ones with white skin and blue
eyes, but with the telltale kink in the fair hair and the bluish
half-moon at the base of the finger-nails.
The four hundred children in the Washington Street School were,
therefore, a mass more homogeneous than alarmists would have us
believe it possible to find in this country. They were, for all
practical purposes, all American, and they were all roughly of one
class. Their families were neither rich nor poor (at least so far as
the children's standards went). Their fathers were grocers, small
clerks, merchants, two or three were truck-farmers, plumbers,
carpenters, accountants, employees of various big businesses in town.
It was into this undistinguished and plebeian mediocrity that the
Marshall children were introduced when they began going to school.
The interior of the school-building resembled the outside in being
precisely like that of ten thousand other graded schools in this
country. The halls were long and dark and dusty, and because the
building had been put up under contract at a period when public
contract-work was not so scrupulously honest as it notably is in our
present cleanly muck-raked era, the steps of the badly built staircase
creaked and groaned and sagged and gave forth clouds of dust under the
weight of the myriads of little feet which climbed up and clown those
steep ascents every day. Everything was of wood. The interior looked
like the realized dream of a professional incendiary.
The classrooms were high and well-lighted, with many large windows,
never either very clean or very dirty, which let in a flood of our
uncompromisingly brilliant American daylight upon the rows of little
seats and desks screwed, like those of an ocean liner, immovably to
the floor, as though at any moment the building was likely to embark
upon a cruise in stormy waters.
Outwardly the rows of clean-faced, comfortably dressed, well-shod
American children, sitting in chairs, bore no resemblance to
shaven-headed, barefooted little Arabian students, squatting on the
floor, gabbling loud uncomprehended texts from the Koran; but the
sight of Sylvia's companions bending over their school-books with
glazed, vacant eyes, rocking back and forth as a rhythmical aid to
memorizing, their lips moving silently as they repeated over and over,
gabblingly, the phrases of the printed page, might have inclined a
hypothetical visitor from Mars to share the bewildered amusement of
the American visitors to Moslem schools. Sylvia rocked and twisted a
favorite button, gabbled silently, and recited fluently with the rest,
being what was known as an apt and satisfactory pupil. In company with
the other children she thus learned to say, in answer to questions,
that seven times seven is forty-nine; that the climate of Brazil is
hot and moist; that the capital of Arkansas is Little Rock; and that
"through" is spelled with three misleading and superfluous letters.
What she really learned was, as with her mates, another matter--for,
of course, those devouringly active little minds did not spend six
hours a day in school without learning something incessantly. The few
rags and tatters of book-information they acquired were but the
merest fringes on the great garment of learning acquired by these
public-school children, which was to wrap them about all their lives.
What they learned during those eight years of sitting still and not
whispering had nothing to do with the books in their desks or the lore
in their teachers' brains. The great impression stamped upon the wax
of their minds, which became iron in after years, was democracy--a
crude, distorted, wavering image of democracy, like every image an
ideal in this imperfect world, but in its essence a reflection of the
ideal of their country. No European could have conceived how literally
it was true that the birth or wealth or social position of a child
made no difference in the estimation of his mates. There were no
exceptions to the custom of considering the individual on his own
merits. These merits were often queerly enough imagined, a faculty for
standing on his head redounding as much, or more, to a boy's credit as
the utmost brilliance in recitation, or generosity of temperament, but
at least he was valued for something he himself could do, and not for
any fortuitous incidents of birth and fortune.
Furthermore there lay back of these four hundred children, who shaped
their world to this rough-and-ready imitation of democracy, their
families, not so intimately known to each other, of course, as the
children themselves, but still by no means unknown in their general
characteristics; four hundred American families who were, on the
whole, industrious, law-abiding, who loved their children, who were
quite tasteless in matters of art, and quite sound though narrow in
matters of morals, utterly mediocre in intelligence and information,
with no breadth of outlook in any direction; but who somehow lived
their lives and faced and conquered all the incredible vicissitudes of
that Great Adventure, with an unconscious, cheerful fortitude which
many an acuter mind might have envied them.
It is possible that the personal knowledge of these four hundred
enduring family lives was, perhaps, the most important mental ballast
taken on by the children of the community during their eight years'
cruise at school. Certainly it was the most important for the
sensitive, complicated, impressionable little Sylvia Marshall, with
her latent distaste for whatever lacked distinction and external
grace, and her passion for sophistication and elegance, which was to
spring into such fierce life with the beginning of her adolescence.
She might renounce, as utterly as she pleased, the associates of her
early youth, but the knowledge of their existence, the acquaintance
with their deep humanity, the knowledge that they found life sweet and
worth living, all this was to be a part of the tissue of her brain
forever, and was to add one to the conflicting elements which battled
within her for the mastery during all the clouded, stormy radiance of
The families which supplied the Washington Street School being quite
stationary in their self-owned houses, few new pupils entered during
the school-year. There was, consequently, quite a sensation on the day
in the middle of March when the two Fingal girls entered, Camilla in
the "Fifth A" grade, where Sylvia was, and Cecile in the third grade,
in the next seat to Judith's. The girls themselves were so different
from other children in school that their arrival would have excited
interest even at the beginning of the school-year. Coming, as they
did, at a time when everybody knew by heart every detail of every
one else's appearance from hair-ribbon to shoes, these two beautiful
exotics, in their rich, plain, mourning dresses were vastly stared at.
Sylvia's impressionable eyes were especially struck by the air of race
and breeding of the new-comer in her class. Everything about the other
child, from her heavy black hair, patrician nose, and large dark eyes
to her exquisitely formed hands, white and well-cared-for, seemed to
Sylvia perfection itself.
During recess she advanced to the new-comer, saying, with a bright
smile: "Aren't you thirsty? Don't you want me to show you where the
pump is?" She put out her hand as she spoke and took the slim white
fingers in her own rough little hand, leading her new schoolmate along
in silence, looking at her with an open interest.
She had confidently expected amicable responsiveness in the other
little girl, because her experience had been that her own frank
friendliness nearly always was reflected back to her from others; but
she had not expected, or indeed ever seen, such an ardent look of
gratitude as burned in the other's eyes. She stopped, startled,
uncomprehending, as though her companion had said something
unintelligible, and felt the slim fingers in her hand close about her
own in a tight clasp. "You are so very kind to show me this pump,"
breathed Camilla shyly. The faint flavor of a foreign accent which,
to Sylvia's ear, hung about these words, was the final touch of
fascination for her. That instant she decided in her impetuous,
enthusiastic heart that Camilla was the most beautiful, sweetest,
best-dressed, loveliest creature she had ever seen, or would ever see
in her life; and she bent her back joyfully in the service of her
ideal. She would not allow Camilla to pump for herself, but flew to
the handle with such energy that the white water gushed out in a
flood, overflowing Camilla's cup, spattering over on her fingers, and
sparkling on the sheer white of her hemstitched cuffs. This made them
both laugh, the delicious silly laugh of childhood.
Already they seemed like friends. "How do you pronounce your name?"
Sylvia asked familiarly.
"Cam-eela Fingal," said the other, looking up from her cup, her upper
lip red and moist. She accented the surname on the last syllable.
"What a perfectly lovely name!" cried Sylvia. "Mine is Sylvia
"That's a pretty name too," said Camilla, smiling. She spoke less
timidly now, but her fawn-like eyes still kept their curious
expression, half apprehension, half hope.
"How old are you?" asked Sylvia.
"Eleven, last November."
"Why, my birthday is in November, and I was eleven too!" cried Sylvia.
"I thought you must be older--you're so tall."
Camilla looked down and said nothing.
Sylvia went on: "I'm crazy about the way you do your hair, in those
twists over your ears. When I was studying my spelling lesson, I was
trying to figure out how you do it."
"Oh, I don't do it. Mattice does it for us--for Cecile and
me--Cecile's my sister. She's in the third grade."
"Why, I have a sister in the third grade too!" exclaimed Sylvia, much
struck by this second propitious coincidence. "Her name is Judith and
she's a darling. Wouldn't it be nice if she and Cecile should be
good friends _too_!" She put her arm about her new comrade's waist,
convinced that they were now intimates of long standing. They ran
together to take their places at the sound of the bell; all during
the rest of the morning session she smiled radiantly at the new-comer
whenever their eyes met.
She planned to walk part way home with her at noon, but she was
detained for a moment by the teacher, and when she reached the front
gate, where Judith was waiting for her, Camilla was nowhere in sight.
Judith explained with some disfavor that a surrey had been waiting for
the Fingal girls and they had been driven away.
Sylvia fell into a rhapsody over her new acquaintance and found to her
surprise (it was always a surprise to Sylvia that Judith's tastes and
judgments so frequently differed from hers) that Judith by no means
shared her enthusiasm. She admitted, but as if it were a matter of no
importance, that both Camilla and Cecile were pretty enough, but she
declared roundly that Cecile was a little sneak who had set out from
the first to be "Teacher's pet." This title, in the sturdy democracy
of the public schools, means about what "sycophantic lickspittle"
means in the vocabulary of adults, and carries with it a crushing
weight of odium which can hardly ever be lived down.
"_Judith_, what makes you think so?" cried Sylvia, horrified at the
"The way she looks at Teacher--she never takes her eyes off her,
and just jumps to do whatever Teacher says. And then she looks at
everybody so kind o' scared--'s'if she thought she was goin' to be hit
over the head every minute and was so thankful to everybody for not
doing it. Makes me feel just _like_ doin' it!" declared Judith, the
Sylvia recognized a scornful version of the appealing expression which
she had found so touching in Camilla.
"Why, I think it's sweet of them to look so! When they're so awfully
pretty, and have such good clothes--and a carriage--and everything!
They might be as stuck-up as anything! I think it's just _nice_ for
them to be so sweet!" persisted Sylvia.
"I don't call it bein' sweet," said Judith, "to watch Teacher every
minute and smile all over your face if she looks at you and hold on to
her hand when she's talkin' to you! It's silly!"
They argued all the way home, and the lunch hour was filled with
appeals to their parents to take sides. Professor and Mrs. Marshall,
always ready, although occasionally somewhat absent, listeners to
school news, professed themselves really interested in these new
scholars and quite perplexed by the phenomenon of two beautiful
dark-eyed children, called Camilla and Cecile Fingal. Judith refused
to twist her tongue to pronounce the last syllable accented, and her
version of the name made it sound Celtic. "Perhaps their father
is Irish and the mother Italian or Spanish," suggested Professor
Sylvia was delighted with this hypothesis, and cried out
enthusiastically, "Oh yes--Camilla _looks_ Italian--like an Italian
Judith assumed an incredulous and derisive expression and remained
silent, an achievement of self-control which Sylvia was never able to
The Fingal girls continued to occupy a large space in Sylvia's
thoughts and hours, and before long they held a unique position in
the opinion of the school, which was divided about evenly between the
extremes represented by Sylvia and Judith. The various accomplishments
of the new-comers were ground both for uneasy admiration and
suspicion. They could sing like birds, and, what seemed like
witchcraft to the unmusical little Americans about them, they could
sing in harmony as easily as they could carry an air. And they recited
with fire, ease, and evident enjoyment, instead of with the show of
groaning, unwilling submission to authority which it was etiquette
in the Washington Street School to show before beginning to "speak a
They were good at their books too, and altogether, with their quick
docility, picturesqueness, and eagerness to please, were the delight
of their teachers. In the fifth grade, Sylvia's example of intimate,
admiring friendship definitely threw popular favor on the side of
Camilla, who made every effort to disarm the hostility aroused by her
too-numerous gifts of nature. She was ready to be friends with the
poorest and dullest of the girls, never asked the important roles in
any games, hid rather than put forward the high marks she received in
her studies, and was lavish with her invitations to her schoolmates to
visit her at home.
The outside of this house, which Mr. Fingal had rented a month or so
before when they first moved to La Chance, was like any one of many in
the region; but the interior differed notably from those to which the
other children were accustomed. For one thing there was no "lady of
the house," Mrs. Fingal having died a short time before. Camilla and
Cecile could do exactly as they pleased, and they gave the freedom of
the house and its contents lavishly to their little friends. In the
kitchen was an enormous old negro woman, always good-natured, always
smelling of whiskey. She kept on hand a supply of the most meltingly
delicious cakes and cookies, and her liberal motto, "Heah, chile,
put yo' han' in the cookie-jah and draw out what you lights on!" was
always flourished in the faces of the schoolmates of the two daughters
of the house.
In the rest of the house, filled with dark, heavy, dimly shining
furniture, reigned Mattice, another old negro woman, but, unlike the
jolly, fat cook, yellow and shriveled and silent. She it was who
arrayed Camille and Cecile with such unerring taste, and her skilful
old hands brushed and dressed their long black hair in artful twists
Here, against their own background, the two girls seemed more at their
ease and showed more spontaneity than at school. They were fond of
"dressing up" and of organizing impromptu dramatizations of the
stories of familiar books, and showed a native ability for acting
which explained their success in recitations. Once when the fun was
very rollicking, Camilla brought out from a closet a banjo and,
thrumming on its strings with skilful fingers, played a tingling
accompaniment to one of her songs. The other little girls were
delighted and clamored for more, but she put it away quickly with
almost a frown on her sweet face, and for once in her life did not
yield to their demands.
"Well, I think more of her for that!" remarked Judith, when this
incident was repeated to her by Sylvia, who cried out, "Why, Judy, how
_hateful_ you are about poor Camilla!"
Nothing was learned about the past history of the Fingals beyond the
fact, dropped once by the cook, that they had lived in Louisiana
before coming to La Chance, but there were rumors, based on nothing
at all, and everywhere credited, that their mother had been a
Spanish-American heiress, disinherited by her family for marrying a
Protestant. Such a romantic and picturesque element had never before
entered the lives of the Washington Street school-children. Once
a bold and insensitive little girl, itching to know more of this
story-book history, had broken the silence about Mrs. Fingal and had
asked Camilla bluntly, "Say, who _was_ your mother, anyway?" The
question had been received by Camilla with whitening lips and a
desperate silence--ended by a sudden loud burst of sobs, which tore
Sylvia's heart. "You mean, horrid thing!" she cried to the inquisitor.
"Her mother isn't dead a year yet! Camilla can't bear to talk about
Once in a great while Mr. Fingal was visible,--a bald, middle-aged man
with a white, sad face, and eyes that never smiled, although his lips
often did when he saw the clusters of admiring children hanging about
Judith held aloof from these gatherings at the Fingal house, her
prejudice against the girls never weakening, although Cecile as well
as Camilla had won over almost all the other girls of her grade.
Judith showed the self-contained indifference which it was her habit
to feel about matters which did not deeply stir her, and made no
further attempts to analyze or even to voice her animosity beyond
saying once, when asked to go with them on a drive, that she didn't
like their "meechin' ways,"--a vigorous New England phrase which she
had picked up from her mother.
* * * * *
About a month after the Fingal girls entered school, the project of a
picnic took form among the girls of the Fifth A grade. One of them had
an uncle who lived three or four miles from town on a farm which was
passed by the inter-urban trolley line, and he had sent word that
the children could, if they liked, picnic in his maple woods, which
overhung the brown waters of the Piquota river. There was to be no
recess that day in Five A, and the grade was to be dismissed half an
hour earlier than usual, so that the girls could go out on the trolley
in time to get the supper ready. The farmer was to bring them back by
moonlight in his hay-wagon.
The prospect seemed ideal. Five A hummed with excitement and
importance as the various provisions were allotted to the different
girls and the plans talked over. Sylvia was to bring bananas enough
for the crowd; one of the German-American girls, whose father kept a
grocery-store, promised pickles and olives; three or four together
were to make the sandwiches, and Camilla Fingal was to bring along a
big bag of the famous rich and be-raisined cookies that lived in
the "cookie-jah." Sylvia, who always enjoyed prodigiously both in
anticipation and in reality any social event, could scarcely contain
herself as the time drew near with every prospect of fair weather.
The morning of the day was clear and fine, a perfect example of early
spring, with silvery pearls showing on the tips of the red-twig
osiers, and pussy-willows gleaming gray along the margins of swampy
places. Sylvia and Judith felt themselves one with this upward surge
of new life. They ran to school together, laughing aloud for no
reason, racing and skipping like a couple of spring lambs, their minds
and hearts as crystal-clear of any shadow as the pale-blue, smiling
sky above them. The rising sap beat in their young bodies as well
as in the beech-trees through which they scampered, whirling their
school-books at the end of their straps, and shouting aloud to hear
the squirrel's petulant, chattering answer.
When they came within sight and hearing of the schoolhouse, their
practised ears detected (although with no hint of foreboding) that
something unusual had happened. The children were not running about
and screaming, but standing with their heads close together, talking,
and talking, and talking. As Judith and Sylvia came near, several ran
to meet them, hurling out at them like a hard-flung stone: "Say--what
d'ye think? Those Fingal girls are niggers!"
To the end of her life, Sylvia would never forget the rending shock
of disillusion brought her by these blunt words. She did not dream
of disbelieving them, or of underestimating their significance. A
thousand confirmatory details leaped into her mind: the rich, sweet
voices--the dramatic ability--the banjo--the deprecatory air of
timidity--the self-conscious unwillingness to take the leading
position to which their talents and beauty gave them a right. Yes,
of course it was true! In the space of a heartbeat, all her
romantic Italian imaginings vanished. She continued to walk forward
mechanically, in an utter confusion of mind.
She heard Judith asking in an astonished voice, "Why, what makes you
think so?" and she listened with a tortured attention to the statement
vouchsafed in an excited chorus by a great many shrill little voices
that the Fingals' old cook had taken a little too much whiskey for
once and had fallen to babbling at the grocery-store before a highly
entertained audience of neighbors, about the endless peregrinations
of the Fingal family in search of a locality where the blood of the
children would not be suspected--"an' theah motheh, fo' all heh
good looks, second cousin to Mattice!" she had tittered foolishly,
gathering up her basket and rolling tipsily out of the store.
"_Well_--" said Judith, "did you ever!" She was evidently as much
amazed as her sister, but Sylvia felt with a sinking of the heart
that what seemed to her the real significance of the news had escaped
The Five A girls came trooping up to Sylvia.--"Of course we can't
have Camilla at the picnic."--"My uncle wouldn't want a _nigger_
there."--"We'll have to tell her she can't come."
Sylvia heard from the other groups of children about them snatches
of similar talk.--"Anybody might ha' known it--singin' the way they
do--just like niggers' voices."--"They'll have to go to the _nigger_
school now."--"Huh! puttin' on airs with their carriage and their
black dresses--nothin' but niggers!" The air seemed full of that word.
Sylvia sickened and quailed.
Not so Judith! It had taken her a moment to understand the way in
which the news was being received. When she did, she turned very
pale, and broke out into a storm of anger. She stuttered and halted
as she always did when overmastered by feeling, but her words were
molten. She ignored the tacit separation between children of different
grades and, though but a third-grader, threw herself passionately
among the girls who were talking of the picnic, clawing at their arms,
forcing her way to the center, a raging, white-faced, hot-eyed little
thunderbolt. "You're the meanest low-down things I ever heard of!" she
told the astonished older girls, fairly spitting at them in her fury.
"You--you go and s-sponge off the Fingals for c-c-cakes and rides and
s-s-soda water--and you think they're too l-l-lovely for w-words--and
you t-t-try to do your hair just the way C-C-Camilla does. They aren't
any different today f-f-from what they were yesterday--are they? You
make me sick--you m-m-make m-m-me--"
The big bell rang out its single deep brazen note for the formation of
lines, and the habit of unquestioning, instant obedience to its voice
sent the children all scurrying to their places, from which they
marched forward to their respective classrooms in their usual convict
silence. Just as the line ahead was disappearing into the open door,
the well-kept, shining surrey drove up in haste and Camilla and
Cecile, dazzling in fresh white dresses and white hair ribbons, ran
to their places. Evidently they had heard nothing. Camilla turned and
smiled brightly at her friend as she stepped along in front of her.
Sylvia experienced another giddy reaction of feeling. Up to that
moment, she had felt nothing but shocked and intensely self-centered
horror at the disagreeableness of what had happened, and a wild desire
to run away to some quiet spot where she would not have to think about
it, where it could not make her unhappy, where her heart would stop
beating so furiously. What had she ever done to have such a horrid
thing happen in her world! She had been as much repelled by Judith's
foaming violence as by any other element of the situation. If she
could only get away! Every sensitive nerve in her, tuned to a graceful
and comely order of life, was rasped to anguish by the ugliness of it
all. Up to the moment Camilla came running to her place--this had been
the dominant impulse in the extreme confusion of Sylvia's mind.
But at the sight of Camilla she felt bursting up through this
confusion of mind, and fiercely attacking her instinct of
self-preservation, a new force, unsuspected, terribly alive--sympathy
with Camilla--Camilla, with her dog-like, timid, loving eyes--Camilla,
who had done nothing to deserve unhappiness except to be
born--Camilla, always uneasy with tragic consciousness of the sword
over her head, and now smiling brightly with tragic unconsciousness
that it was about to fall. Sylvia's heart swelled almost unendurably.
She was feeling, for the first time in her life consciously, the two
natures under her skin, and this, their first open struggle for the
mastery of her, was like a knife in her side.
She sat during the morning session, her eyes on the clock, fearing
miserably the moment of dismissal at noon, when she must take some
action--she who only longed to run away from discord and dwell in
peace. Her mind swung, pendulum-like, from one extreme of feeling to
another. Every time that Camilla smiled at her across the heads of the
other children, sullenly oblivious of their former favorite, Sylvia
turned sick with shame and pity. But when her eyes rested on the hard,
hostile faces which made up her world, the world she had to live in,
the world which had been so full of sweet and innocent happiness for
her, the world which would now be ranged with her or against her
according to her decision at noon, she was overcome by a panic at the
very idea of throwing her single self against this many-headed tyrant.
With an unspeakable terror she longed to feel the safe walls of
conformity about her. There was a battle with drawn swords in the
heart of the little girl trying blindly to see where the _n_ came in
The clock crept on, past eleven, towards twelve. Sylvia had come to no
decision. She could come to no decision! She felt herself consciously
to be unable to cope with the crisis. She was too small, too weak, too
shrinking, to make herself iron, and resist an overwhelming force.
It was five minutes of twelve. The order was given to put away books
and pencils in the desks. Sylvia's hands trembled so that she could
hardly close the lid.
"Turn!" said the teacher, in her tired, mechanical voice. The children
turned their stubbed-toed shoes out into the aisle, their eyes
menacingly on Camilla.
"Rise!" Like a covey of partridge, they all stood up, stretching,
twisting their bodies, stiff and torpid after the long hours of
"Pass!" Clattering feet all over the building began moving along the
aisles and out towards the cloakrooms. Every one seized his own wraps
with a practised snatch, and passed on, still in line, over the dusty
wooden floors of the hall, down the ill-built, resounding stairs, out
to the playground--out to Sylvia's ordeal.
As she came out blinkingly into the strong spring sunlight, she still
had reached no decision. Her impulse was to run, as fast as she could,
out to the gate and down the street--home! But another impulse held
her back. The lines were breaking up. Camilla was turning about with
a smile to speak to her. Malevolent eyes were fixed on them from all
sides. Sylvia felt her indecision mount in a cloud about her, like
blinding, scalding steam.
And then, there before her, stood Judith, her proud dark little face
set in an angry scowl, her arm about Cecile Fingal's neck.
Sylvia never could think what she would have done if Judith had not
been there; but then, Judith was one of the formative elements of her
life--as much as was the food she ate or the thoughts she had. What
she did was to turn as quickly and unhesitatingly as though she had
always meant to do it, put her arm through Camilla's and draw her
rapidly towards the gate where the surrey waited. Judith and Cecile
followed. The crowds of astonished, and for the moment silenced,
children fell back before them.
Once she had taken her action, Sylvia saw that it was the only one
possible. But she was upheld by none of the traditional pride in a
righteous action, nor by a raging single-mindedness like Judith's, who
stalked along, her little fists clenched, frowning blackly to right
and left on the other children, evidently far more angry with them
than sympathetic for Cecile. Sylvia did not feel angry with any one.
She was simply more acutely miserable than she had ever dreamed
possible. The distance to the surrey seemed endless to her.
Her sudden rush had taken Camilla so completely by surprise that
not until they were at the gate did she catch her breath to ask
laughingly: "What in the world's the _matter_ with you, Sylvia? You
act so queer!"
Sylvia did not answer, every nerve bent on getting Camilla into
safety, but a little red-headed boy from the second grade, who could
scarcely talk plainly, burst out chantingly, pointing his dirty
forefinger at Camilla:
"Nigger, nigger, never die,
Black face and shiny eye,
Curly hair and curly toes--
_That's_ the way the nigger goes!"
There was a loud laugh from the assembled children.
Camilla wavered as though she had been struck. Her lovely face turned
ashy-gray, and she looked at Sylvia with the eyes of one dying.
From the deepest of her nature, Sylvia responded to that look. She
forgot the crowd,--boldly, unafraid, beside herself with pity, she
flung her arms about her friend's neck, hiding the white face on her
shoulder. Judith ran up, blazing with rage, and pulled at Camilla's
arm. "Don't give in! Don't give in!" she screamed. "Don't cry! Don't
let 'em see you care! Sass 'em back, why don't you? Hit that little
boy over the head! Sass them back, why don't you?"
But Camilla only shook her head vehemently and shrank away into the
carriage, little Cecile stumbling after, the silent tears streaming
down her face. The two clasped each other, and the surrey drove
quickly away, leaving the Marshall girls standing on the curb.
Judith turned around and faced the crowds of enemies back of them.
"Nasty old things!" she cried, sticking out her tongue at them. She
was answered by a yell, at which she made another face and walked
away, pulling Sylvia with her. For a few steps they were followed by
some small boys who yelled in chorus:
"Judith's mad and I'm glad,
And I know what'll please her:
A bottle of wine to make her shine,
And two little niggers to squeeze her!"
They were beginning this immemorially old chant over again when Judith
turned and ran back towards them with a white, terrible face of wrath.
At the sight they scattered like scared chickens.
Judith was so angry that she was shivering all over her small body,
and she kept repeating at intervals, in a suffocated voice: "Nasty old
things! Just wait till I tell my father and mother!"
As they passed under the beech-trees, it seemed to Sylvia a physical
impossibility that only that morning they had raced and scampered
along, whirling their school-books and laughing.
They ran into the house, calling for their parents in excited voices,
and pouring out incoherent exclamations. Sylvia cried a little at
the comforting sight of her mother's face and was taken up on Mrs.
Marshall's lap and closely held. Judith never cried; she had not cried
even when she ran the sewing-machine needle through her thumb;
but when infuriated she could not talk, her stammering growing so
pronounced that she could not get out a word, and it was Sylvia who
told the facts. She was astonished to find them so few and so quickly
stated, having been under the impression that something of intense and
painful excitement had been happening every moment of the morning.
But the experience of her parents supplied the tragic background of
strange, passionate prejudice which Sylvia could not phrase, and which
gave its sinister meaning to her briefly told story: "--and so Judith
and I walked with them out to the gate, and then that little Jimmy
Cohalan yelled out, 'nigger--nigger'--_you_ know--"
Judith broke in, her nostrils distended, "And they never sassed back,
or hit anybody or anything--just crumpled up and cried!"
Sylvia was aghast with bewilderment. "Why, I thought you were on their
"Well, I _am_!" asserted Judith, beginning to stammer again. "But I
don't have to _like_ 'em any better, do I--because I get mad when
a l-l-lot of mean, n-nasty girls that have b-b-b-been s-s-spongin'
off--" She stopped, balked by her infirmity, and appealed to her
parents with a silent look of fury.
"What _shall_ we do, Mother?" asked Sylvia despairingly, looking up
into her mother's face from the comfortable shelter of her long,
strong arms. Mrs. Marshall looked down at her without speaking. It
occurred to Sylvia disquietingly that her mother's expression was a
little like Judith's. But when Mrs. Marshall spoke it was only to say
in her usual voice: "Well, the first thing to do is to have something
to eat. Whatever else you do, don't let a bad condition of your
body interfere with what's going on in your mind. Lunch is getting
cold--and don't talk about trouble while you're eating. After you're
through, Father'll tell you what to do."
Professor Marshall made a gesture of dismay. "Good Lord, Barbara,
don't put it off on me!"
His wife looked at him with smoldering eyes. "I certainly have nothing
to say that would be fit for children to hear!" she said in an
energetic tone, beginning to serve the baked beans, which were the
main dish for the day.
After the meal, always rather hasty because of the children's short
noon-hour, Sylvia and Judith went to sit on their father's knees,
while he put an arm about each and, looking from one serious expectant
face to the other, began his explanation. He cleared his throat, and
hesitated before beginning, and had none of his usual fluency as he
went on. What he finally said was: "Well, children, you've stumbled
into about the hardest problem there is in this country, and the
honest truth is that we don't any of us know what's right to do about
it. The sort of thing that's just happened in the Washington Street
School is likely to happen 'most anywhere, and it's no harder on these
poor little playmates of yours than on all colored people. But it's
awfully hard on them all. The best we can do is to hope that after a
great many people have lived and died, all trying to do their best,
maybe folks will have learned how to manage better. Of course, if
grown men and women don't know how to help matters, you little girls
can't expect to fix things either. All you can do is to go on being
nice to Camilla and--"
Judith broke in here hotly, "You don't mean we oughtn't to _do_
something about the girls being so mean to them--not letting Camilla
go to the picnic and--"
"What _could_ you do?" asked her father quietly, "that would make
things any better for Camilla? If you were forty times as strong as
you are, you couldn't make the other girls _want_ Camilla at the
picnic. It would only spoil the picnic and wouldn't help Camilla a
bit." Professor Marshall meditated a moment, and went on, "Of course
I'm proud of my little daughters for being kind to friends who are
unhappy through no fault of theirs" (Sylvia winced at this, and
thought of confessing that she was very near running away and leaving
Camilla to her fate), "and I hope you'll go on being as nice to your
unfortunate friends as ever--"
Judith said: "They aren't friends of mine! I don't like them!"
As not infrequently happened, something about Judith's attitude had
been irritating her father, and he now said with some severity, "Then
it's a case where Sylvia's loving heart can do more good than your
anger, though you evidently think it very fine of you to feel that!"
Judith looked down in a stubborn silence, and Sylvia drooped miserably
in the consciousness of receiving undeserved praise. She opened her
mouth to explain her vacillations of the morning, but her moral fiber
was not equal to the effort. She felt very unhappy to have Judith
blamed and herself praised when things ought to have been reversed,
but she could not bring herself to renounce her father's good opinion.
Professor Marshall gave them both a kiss and set them down. "It's
twenty minutes to one. You'd better run along, dears," he said.
After the children had gone out, his wife, who had preserved an
unbroken silence, remarked dryly, "So that's the stone we give them
when they ask for bread."
Professor Marshall made no attempt to defend himself. "My dim
generalities are pretty poor provender for honest children's minds, I
admit," he said humbly, "but what else have we to give them that isn't
directly contradicted by our lives? There's no use telling children
something that they never see put into practice."
"It's not impossible, I suppose, to change our lives," suggested his
Professor Marshall drew a great breath of disheartenment. "As long as
I can live without thinking of that element in American life--it's all
right. But when anything brings it home--like this today--I feel that
the mean compromise we all make must be a disintegrating moral force
in the national character. I feel like gathering up all of you, and
going away--away from the intolerable question--to Europe--and earning
the family living by giving English lessons!"
Mrs. Marshall cried out, "It makes _me_ feel like going out right here
in La Chance with a bomb in one hand and a rifle in the other!"
From which difference of impression it may perhaps be seen that the
two disputants were respectively the father and mother of Sylvia and
Mrs. Marshall rose and began clearing away the luncheon dishes. As she
disappeared into the kitchen, she paused a moment behind the door, a
grim, invisible voice, remarking, "And what we shall do is, of course,
simply nothing at all!"
Sylvia and Judith walked to school in a profound silence. Sylvia was
shrinking with every nerve from the ordeal of facing again those four
hundred hostile faces; from the new and painful relations with her
playmates which lay before her. She was now committed irrevocably to
the cause of the Fingals, and she felt a terrified doubt of having
enough moral strength to stick to that position.
For the moment the problem was settled by their arriving at the
schoolhouse almost too late. The lines were just marching into the
building, and both girls barely slipped into their places in time.
Sylvia noticed with relief that Camilla was absent.
All the Five A girls had paper bags or pasteboard boxes, and in the
air of the Five A cloakroom was a strong smell of vinegar. Gretchen
Schmidt's pickles had begun to soak through the bag, and she borrowed
the cover of a box to set them in. These sounds and smells recalled
the picnic to Sylvia's mind, the picnic to which she had been looking
forward with such inexpressible pleasure. For an instant she was
aghast to think that she had forgotten her bananas, tied up all ready
at home on the sideboard. But the next instant she thought sadly that
she probably would not be welcome at the picnic. She went to her seat
and sat forlorn through the changing lessons of the afternoon.
The teacher ground out the half-hour lessons wearily, her eyes on the
clock, as unaware of the crisis in her class as though she were in
another planet. At four o'clock Sylvia filed out with the other
children to the cloakroom, but there was not the usual quick,
practised grab, each for his own belongings. The girls remained
behind, exclaiming and lamenting. Such a clamor arose that the teacher
came hurrying in, anxious for the reputation for good behavior of
her class. Good behavior in the Washington Street School, as in a
penitentiary, was gauged by the degree of silence and immobility
achieved by the inmates.
The girls ran to Miss Miller, crying out, "Somebody's stolen our
lunches,--we left them here--all our boxes and things--and they're all
Sylvia hung back in the door to the schoolroom, apart from the others,
half relieved by the unexpected event which diverted attention from
One of the boys who had gone ahead in the line now came back, a large
cucumber stuck in the corner of his mouth like a fat, green cigar. He
announced with evident satisfaction in the girls' misfortune that the
steps were strewn with pickles. The bag must have burst entirely
as they were being carried downstairs. Gretchen Schmidt began to
weep,--"all them good pickles--!" One of the girls flew at the boy who
brought the bad news. "I just bet you did it yourself, Jimmy Weaver,
you an' Frank Kennedy. You boys were mad anyhow because we didn't ask
you to come to the picnic."
Jimmy's face assumed the most unmistakably genuine expression of
astonishment and aggrieved innocence. "Aw, you're off yer base! I
wouldn't ha' gone to your darned old picnic--an' wasn't I in the room
every minute this afternoon?"
"No, you weren't--you weren't!" More of the girls had come to the
attack, and now danced about the boy, hurling accusations at him. "You
got excused to get a drink of water! And so did Pete Roberts! You did
it then! You did it then! You did--"
"Hush, children! Not so loud!" said Miss Miller. "_You'll have the
Principal down here_!"
At this terrible threat the children, in spite of their heat, lowered
their voices. Jimmy was beginning an angry, half-alarmed protest--"Aw,
'twas a tramp must ha' got in an' saw--" when he was pushed out of the
way by a small, vigorous hand. Judith Marshall walked in, her face
very pale. She was breathing hard, and through her parted lips, as
though she had been running fast, her small white teeth showed like
those of an enraged squirrel. "I threw your picnic things in the
river," she said.
The older children recoiled from this announcement, and from the
small, tense figure. Even the teacher kept her distance, as though
Judith were some dangerous little animal,
"What in the world did you do that for?" she asked in a tone of
"Because they are n-n-nasty, mean things," said Judith, "and if they
weren't going to let C-C-Camilla go to the picnic, I wasn't going to
let them _have_ any picnic!"
The teacher turned around to Sylvia, now almost as white as her
sister, and said helplessly, "Sylvia, do you know what she's talking
Sylvia went forward and took Judith's hand. She was horrified beyond
words by what Judith had done, but Judith was her little sister. "Yes,
ma'am," she said, to Miss Miller's question, speaking, for all her
agitation, quickly and fluently as was her habit, though not very
coherently. "Yes, ma'am, I know. Everybody was saying this morning
that the Fingals' mother was a negro, and so the girls weren't going
to invite Camilla to the picnic, and it made Judith mad."
"Why, _she_ didn't know Camilla very well, did she?" asked the
"No, ma'am," said Sylvia, still speaking quickly, although the tears
of fright were beginning to stand in her eyes. "It just made her mad
because the girls weren't going to invite her because she didn't think
it was anyhow her fault."
"_Whose_ fault!" cried the teacher, completely lost.
"Camilla's," quavered Sylvia, the tears beginning to fall.
There was a pause. "_Well_--I _never_!" exclaimed the teacher, whose
parents had come from New England. She was entirely at a loss to know
how to treat this unprecedented situation, and like other potentates
with a long habit of arbitrary authority, she covered her perplexity
with a smart show of decision. "You children go right straight home,
along out of the building this minute," she commanded. "You know
you're not allowed to loiter around after school-hours. Sylvia and
Judith, stay here. _I'm going to take you up to the Principal's
The girls and Jimmy Weaver ran clattering down the stairs, in an
agreeably breathless state of excitement. In their opinion the
awfulness of the situation had been adequately recognized by the
teacher and signaled by the equally awful expedient of a visit to
the Principal's office, the last resort in the case of the rarely
occurring insubordinate boy.
Because Miss Miller had not the least idea what to say in an event so
far out of the usual routine, she talked a great deal during the trip
through the empty halls and staircases up to the Principal's office
on the top floor; chiefly to the effect that as many years as she had
taught, never had she encountered such a bad little girl as Judith.
Judith received this in stony silence, but Sylvia's tears fell fast.
All the years of her docile school existence had trained her in the
habit of horror at insubordination above every other crime. She felt
as disgraced as though Judith had been caught stealing,--perhaps more
Miss Miller knocked at the door; the Principal, stooping and
hollow-chested, opened it and stood confronting with tired, kind eyes
the trio before him--the severe woman, with her pathetic, prematurely
old face and starved flat body, the pretty little girl hanging down
her head and weeping, the smaller child who gave him one black defiant
look and then gazed past him out of the window.
"Well, Miss Miller--?" he asked.
"I've brought you a case that I don't know what to do with," she
began. "This is Judith Marshall, in the third grade, and she has just
done one of the naughtiest things I ever heard of--"
When she had finished her recital, "How do you know this child did
it?" asked Mr. Bristol, always his first question in cases between
teachers and pupils.
"She was so brazen as to come right back and tell us so," said Miss
Miller, her tone growing more and more condemnatory.
Judith's face, capable of such rare and positive beauty, had now shut
down into a hard, repellent little mask of hate. Mr. Bristol looked
at her for a moment in silence, and then at Sylvia, sobbing, her arm
crooked over her face, hiding everything but her shining curls. "And
what has this little girl to do with anything?" he asked.
"This is Sylvia Marshall, Judith's sister, and of course she feels
dreadfully about Judith's doing such a dreadful thing," explained Miss
Mr. Bristol walked back to his desk and sat down. "Well, I think I
needn't keep you any longer, Miss Miller," he said. "If you will just
leave the little girls here for a while perhaps I can decide what to
do about it."
Thus mildly but unmistakably dismissed, the teacher took her
departure, pushing Sylvia and Judith inside the door and shutting it
audibly after her. She was so tired as she walked down the stairs that
she ached, and she thought to herself, "As if things weren't hard
enough without their going and being naughty--!"
Inside the room there was a moment's silence, filled almost palpably
by Sylvia's quivering alarm, and by Judith's bitter mental resistance.
Mr. Bristol drew out a big book from the shelf over his desk and held
it out to Sylvia. "I guess you all got pretty excited about this,
didn't you?" he said, smiling wisely at the child. "You and your
sister sit down and look at the pictures in this for a while, till you
get cooled off, and then I'll hear all about it."
Sylvia took the book obediently, and drew Judith to a chair, opening
the pages, brushing away her tears, and trying to go through the form
of looking at the illustrations, which were of the birds native to the
region. In spite of her emotion, the large, brightly colored pictures
did force their way through her eye to her brain, instinct in every
fiber with the modern habit of taking in impressions from the printed
page; and for years afterwards she could have told the names of the
birds they saw during that long, still half-hour, broken by no sound
but the tap-tap-tap of Mr. Bristol's typewriter. He did not once look
towards them. This was partly a matter of policy, and partly because
he was trying desperately to get a paper written for the next
Convention of Public School Principals, which he was to address on
the "Study of Arithmetic in the Seventh Grade." He had very fixed and
burning ideas about the teaching of arithmetic in the seventh grade,
which he longed with a true believer's fervor to see adopted by all
the schools in the country. He often said that if they would only do
so, the study of arithmetic would be revolutionized in a decade.
Judith sat beside her sister, not pretending to look at the book,
although the rigidity of her face insensibly softened somewhat in the
contagious quiet of the room.
When they had turned over the last page and shut the book, Mr. Bristol
faced them again, leaning back in his swivel-chair, and said: "Now,
children--all quiet? One of you begin at the beginning and tell me how
it happened." Judith's lips shut together in a hard line, so Sylvia
began, surprised to find her nerves steadied and calmed by the silent
half-hour of inaction back of her. She told how they were met that
morning by the news, how the children shouted after Camilla as she got
into the carriage, how the Five A girls had decided to exclude her
from the picnic, how angry Judith had been, and then--then--she knew
no more to tell beyond the bare fact of Judith's passionate misdeed.
Mr. Bristol began to cross-examine Judith in short, quiet sentences.
"What made you think of throwing the things into the river?"
"I was afraid they'd get them back somehow if I didn't," said Judith,
as if stating a self-evident argument.
"Where did you go to throw them in? To the Monroe Street bridge?"
"No, I didn't have time to go so far. I just went down through
Randolph Street to the bank and there was a boat there tied to a tree,
and I got in and pushed it out as far as the rope would go and dropped
the things in from the other end."
Sylvia caught her breath in terror at this recital. The Piquota river
ran swift and turbid and deep between high banks at that point.
"Weren't you afraid to venture out in a boat all by yourself?" asked
the man, looking at Judith's diminutive person.
"Yes, I was," said Judith unexpectedly.
Mr. Bristol said "Oh--" and stood in thought for a moment. Some one
knocked on the door, and he turned to open it. At the sight of the
tall figure standing there in his pepper-and-salt suit, Sylvia's
heart gave a great bound of incredulous rapture. The appearance of
a merciful mediator on the Day of Judgment could not have given her
keener or more poignant relief. She and Judith both ran headlong to
their father, catching his hands in theirs, clinging to his arms and
pressing their little bodies against his. The comfort Sylvia felt in
his mere physical presence was inexpressible. It is one of the pure
golden emotions of childhood, which no adult can ever recover, save
perhaps a mystic in a moment of ecstatic contemplation of the power
and loving-kindness of his God.
Professor Marshall put out his hand to the Principal, introducing
himself, and explained that he and his wife had been a little uneasy
when the children had not returned from school. Mr. Bristol shook the
other's hand, saying that he knew of him through mutual acquaintances
and assuring him that he could not have come at a more opportune
moment. "Your little daughter has given me a hard nut to crack. I need
Both men sat down, Sylvia and Judith still close to their father's
side, and Mr. Bristol told what had happened in a concise, colorless
narration, ending with Judith's exploit with the boat. "Now what would
_you_ do in _my_ place?" he said, like one proposing an insoluble
Sylvia, seeing the discussion going on in such a quiet, conversational
tone, ventured in a small voice the suggestion that Judith had done
well to confess, since that had saved others from suspicion. "The
girls were sure that Jimmy Weaver had done it."
"Was that why you came back and told?" asked Professor Marshall.
"No," said Judith bluntly, "I never thought of that. I wanted to be
sure they knew why it happened."
The two men exchanged glances. Professor Marshall said: "Didn't you
understand me when I told you at noon that even if you could make the
girls let Camilla go to the picnic, she wouldn't have a good time? You
couldn't make them like to have her?"
"Yes, I understood all right," said Judith, looking straight at her
father, "but if she couldn't have a good time--and no fault of hers--I
wasn't going to let _them_ have a good time either. I wasn't trying to
make them want her. I was trying to get even with them!"
Professor Marshall looked stern. "That is just what I feared, Judith,
and that hateful spirit is the bad thing about the whole business." He
turned to the Principal: "How many girls were going to the picnic?"
The other, with a wide gesture, disavowed any knowledge of the matter.
"Good Heavens! how should I know?"
Sylvia counted rapidly. "Fourteen," she said.
"Well, Mr. Bristol, how would this do for a punishment? Judith has
worked in various ways, digging up dandelions from the lawn, weeding
flower-beds, running errands--you know--all the things children
do--and she has a little more than five dollars in her iron
savings-bank, that she has been saving for more than a year to buy a
collie puppy. Would you be satisfied if she took that money, divided
it into fourteen parts, and took it herself in person to each of the
During this proposal Judith's face had taken on an expression of utter
dismay. She looked more childlike, more like her years than at any
moment during the interview. "Oh, _Father_!" she implored him, with a
deep note of entreaty.
He did not look at her, but over her head at the Principal, who was
rising from his chair with every indication of relief on his face."
Nothing could be better," he said. "That will be just right--every one
will be satisfied. And I'll just say for the sake of discipline
that little Judith shan't come back to school till she has done her
penance. Of course she can get it all done before supper-time tonight.
All our families live in the vicinity of the school." He was shaking
Professor Marshall's hand again and edging him towards the door, his
mind once more on his paper, hoping that he might really finish it
before night--if only there were no more interruptions!
His achievement in divining the mental processes of two children
hysterical with excitement, his magnetic taming of those fluttering
little hearts, his inspired avoidance of a fatal false step at
a critical point in the moral life of two human beings in the
making--all this seemed as nothing to him--an incident of the day's
routine already forgotten. He conceived that his real usefulness to
society lay in the reform of arithmetic-teaching in the seventh grade,
and he turned back to his arguments with the ardor of the great
landscape painter who aspires to be a champion at billiards.
Professor Marshall walked home in silence with his two daughters,
explained the matter to his wife, and said that he and Sylvia would
go with Judith on her uncomfortable errand. Mrs. Marshall listened
in silence and went herself to get the little bank stuffed full of
painfully earned pennies and nickels. Then she bade them into the
kitchen and gave Judith and Sylvia each a cookie and a glass of milk.
She made no comment whatever on the story, or on her husband's
sentence for the culprit, but just as the three, were going out of the
door, she ran after them, caught Judith in her arms, and gave her a
* * * * *
The next day was Saturday, and it was suggested that Judith and Sylvia
carry on their campaign by going to see the Fingals and spending the
morning playing with them as though nothing had happened.
As they approached the house, somewhat perturbed by the prospect, they
saw with surprise that the windows were bare of the heavy yellow lace
curtains which had hung in the parlor, darkening that handsomely
furnished room to a rich twilight. They went up on the porch, and
Judith rang the bell resolutely, while Sylvia hung a little back of
her. From this position she could see into the parlor, and exclaimed,
"Why, Judy, this isn't the right house--nobody lives here!" The big
room was quite empty, the floors bare of the large soft rugs, and as
the children pressed their faces to the pane, they could see through
an open door into a bedroom also dismantled and deserted.
They ran around the house to the back door and knocked on it. There
was no answer. Judith turned the knob, the door opened, and they stood
in what had been unmistakably the Fingals' kitchen. Evidence of wild
haste and confusion was everywhere about them--the floor was littered
with excelsior, the shelves half cleared and half occupied still with
cooking supplies, a packing-box partly filled with kitchenware which
at the last moment the fugitives had evidently decided to abandon.
The little girls stood in this silent desolation, looking about them
with startled eyes. A lean mother-cat came and rubbed her thin,
pendent flanks against their legs, purring and whining. Three kittens
skirmished joyfully in the excelsior, waylaying one another in ambush
and springing out with bits of the yellow fibers clinging to their
woolly soft fur.
"They've _gone_!" breathed Sylvia. "They've gone away for good!"
Judith nodded, even her bold and unimaginative spirit somewhat
daunted by the ghostly silence of the house. Sylvia tiptoed to the
swinging-door and pushed it open. Yes, there was the pantry, like the
kitchen, in chaotic disorder, tissue paper and excelsior thick on the
floor, and entangled with it the indescribable jumble of worthless,
disconnected objects always tumbled together by a domestic crisis
like a fire or a removal--old gloves, whisk-brooms, hat-forms, lamps,
magazines, tarnished desk-fittings. The sight was so eloquent of panic
haste that Sylvia let the door swing shut, and ran back into the
Judith was pointing silently to a big paper bag on the shelf. It had
been tossed there with some violence evidently, for the paper had
burst and the contents had cascaded out on the shelf and on the
floor--the rich, be-raisined cookies which Camilla was to have taken
to the picnic. Sylvia felt the tears stinging her eyelids, and pulled
Judith out of the tragic house. They stood for a moment in the yard,
beside a bed of flowering crocuses, brilliant in the sun. The forsaken
house looked down severely at them from its blank windows. Judith was
almost instantly relieved of mental tension by the outdoor air, and
stooped down unconcernedly to tie her shoe. She broke the lacing and
had to sit down, take it out of the shoe, tie it, and put it back
again. The operation took some time, during which Sylvia stood still,
her mind whirling.
For the first time in her steadily forward-going life there was a
sharp, irrevocable break. Something which had been yesterday was now
no more. She would never see Camilla again, she who recalled Camilla's
look of anguish as though they still stood side by side. Her heart
filled with unspeakable thankfulness that she had put her arms around
Camilla's neck at that supreme last moment. That had not been Judith's
doing. That had come from her own heart. Unconsciously she had laid
the first stone in the wall of self-respect which might in the future
fortify her against her weaknesses.
She stood looking up blindly at the house, shivering again at the
recollection of its echoing, empty silence. The moment was one she
never forgot. Standing there in that commonplace backyard, staring up
at a house like any one of forty near her, she felt her heart grow
larger. In that moment, tragedy, mystery, awe, and pity laid their
shadowy fingers on her shining head.
THE END OF CHILDHOOD
That afternoon a couple of children who came to play in the Marshall
orchard brought news that public opinion, after the fashion of that
unstable weathercock, was veering rapidly, and blowing from a wholly
unexpected quarter. "My papa says," reported Gretchen Schmidt, who
never could keep anything to herself, even though it might be by no
means to her advantage to proclaim it--"my papa says that he thinks
the way American people treats colored peoples is just fierce; and he
says if he'd ha' known about our not letting Camilla go to the picnic,
he'd ha' taken the trouble to me '_mit der flachen Hand schlagen._'
That means he'd have spanked me good and plenty."
Maria Perkins, from the limb where she hung by her knees, responded,
"Yup, my Uncle Eben says he likes Judy's spunk."
"I guess he wouldn't have, if it'd ha' been his pickles!" Gretchen
made a last stand against the notorious injustice of fickle adult
But the tide had begun to turn. On Monday morning Sylvia and Judith
found themselves far from ostracized, rather the center of much
respectful finger-pointing on the part of children from the other
grades who had never paid the least attention to them before. And
finally when the Principal, passing majestically from room to room in
his daily tour of inspection, paused in his awful progress and spoke
to Judith by name, asking her quite familiarly and condescendingly
what cities you would pass through if you went from Chicago to New
Orleans, the current set once and for all in the other direction. No
mention was ever made of the disappearance of the Fingals, and the
Marshall children found their old places waiting for them.
It was not long before Judith had all but forgotten the episode; but
Sylvia, older and infinitely more impressionable, found it burned
irrevocably into her memory. For many and many a week, she did not
fall asleep without seeing Camilla's ashy face of wretchedness. And it
was years before she could walk past the house where the Fingals had
lived, without feeling sick.
Her life was, however, brimming with active interests which occupied
her, mind and body. There was rarely a day when a troop of children
did not swarm over the Marshall house and barn, playing and playing
and playing with that indomitable zest in life which is the birthright
of humanity before the fevers and chills of adolescence begin. Sylvia
and Judith, moreover, were required to assume more and more of the
responsibility of the housework, while their mother extracted from the
Marshall five acres an ever increasing largesse of succulent food.
Sylvia's seances with old Reinhardt and the piano were becoming
serious affairs: for it was now tentatively decided that she was to
earn her living by teaching music. There were many expeditions on foot
with their mother, for Mrs. Marshall had become, little by little,
chief nurse and adviser to all the families of the neighborhood; and
on her errands of service one of her daughters was needed to carry
supplies and act as assistant. And finally, as the children grew
older, and the family tradition of bookishness took hold of
them, there were shelves and shelves to be devoured, a strange
mixture--Thackeray, Maeterlinck, Fielding, Hakluyt, Ibsen, Dickens,
Ruskin, Shaw, Austen, Moliere, Defoe, Cervantes, Shakespeare,--the
children dipped, or tasted or swallowed whole, according to their
temperaments and the books they happened on.
When Sylvia was thirteen, almost fourteen years old, she "graduated"
from the eighth grade of the public schools and was ready to enter the
High School. But after a good many family councils, in most of which,
after the unreticent Marshall manner, she herself was allowed to be
present, it was decided not to send her to the huge new Central High
School, which had cost La Chance such a big slice of its taxes, but to
prepare her at home for her course at the State University. She had
been growing very fast, was a little thin and white, and had been
outgrowing her strength. This at least was the reason given out to
inquirers. In reality her father's prejudice against High School
life for adolescents was the determining cause. In the course of his
University work he was obliged to visit a good many High Schools, and
had acquired a violent prejudice against the stirring social life
characteristic of those institutions.
Sylvia's feelings about this step aside from the beaten track were,
like many of Sylvia's feelings, decidedly mixed. She was drawn towards
the High School by the suction of the customary. A large number of her
classmates expected as a matter of course to pass on in the usual way;
but, with an uneasy qualm, half pride and half apprehension, Sylvia
was beginning to feel her difference from ordinary children. She was
not altogether sorry to say good-bye to her playmates, with whom she
no longer had much in common. She would miss the fun of class-life, of
course; but there was a certain distinction involved in being educated
"differently." She might be queer, but since she was apparently fated
to be queer, she might as well not be "common" as well. Finally,
because she was still, at fourteen, very much of a child, the scale
was tipped by her thinking what fun it would be to go down-town on
errands in school hours. Charles Lamb, lost in painful wonder at his
own leisure after thirty-six years of incessant office-hours, could
savor no more acutely than an American school-child the exquisite
flavor of freedom at an hour formerly dedicated to imprisonment.
As a matter of fact, during the next three years Sylvia's time was
more constantly occupied than when there was a fixed time-limit to her
studies. Her teachers were always about her, and lightly as the new
yoke pressed, she wore it practically without intermission. Her
immersion in the ideals, the standards, the concepts of her parents
was complete, engulfing. Somebody was nearly always teaching her
something. She studied history and Latin with her father; mathematics
with her mother. She learned to swim, to play tennis, to ride in the
summer-time, and to skate on the frozen swimming-pool in winter, all
without stirring from home. Old Reinhardt was supposed to come twice
a week to give her a piano-lesson, but actually he dropped in almost
every day to smoke meditatively and keep a watchful ear on her
Although during those years she was almost literally rooted to the
Marshall soil, watered by Marshall convictions, and fed by Marshall
information, the usual miracle of irresistibly individual growth went
silently and unconsciously forward in her. She was growing up to be
herself, and not her mother or her father, little as any one in her
world suspected the presence of this unceasingly recurrent phenomenon
of growth. She was alive to all the impressions reflected so
insistently upon her, but she transmuted them into products which
would immensely have surprised her parents, they being under the
usual parental delusion that they knew every corner of her heart. Her
budding aversions, convictions, ambitions were not in the least the
aversions, convictions, and ambitions so loudly voiced about her; and
a good deal of her energy was taken up in a more or less conscious
reaction from the family catchwords, with especial emphasis laid on an
objection to the family habit of taking their convictions with great
Her father would have been aghast if he could have felt the slightest
reflection from the heat of her detestation of his favorite,
Emersonian motto, which, now that he had reached five and forty, he
was apt to repeat with the iteration natural to his age, rousing in
Sylvia the rebellious exasperation felt by _her_ age for over-emphatic
On the occasion of one of the annual gatherings at the Marshall house
of the Seniors in her father's classes, she remarked fiercely to
Judith, "If Father gets off that old Emerson, 'What will you have,
quoth God. Take it and pay for it,' again tonight in his speech, I'm
going to get right up and scream."
Judith stared. The girls were in the kitchen, large aprons over their
best dresses, setting out rows of plates for the chicken salad which
was to come after the music. "I don't see anything to scream about in
that!" said Judith with a wondering contempt for Sylvia's notions.
"I'm so _sick_ of it!" cried Sylvia, tearing the lettuce-leaves apart
with venom. "Father never gets through any sort of a speech that he
doesn't work it in--and I hate it, anyhow! It makes me feel as though
somebody had banged a big door in my face and shut me up in prison."
"Well, for goodness' sakes!" cried Judith, who, at this period of
their lives, had remained rather more than her three years behind
Sylvia's intelligence. "How do you get all that out of _that_!"
"You haven't sense enough to know what it means, that's all!" retorted
Sylvia. "It means something perfectly hateful, the way Father uses it.
It means you've got to pay for every single thing you do or get in
this world! It's somebody tagging you round with an account-book,
seeing how big a bill you're running up. It's the perfectly horrid way
Father and Mother make us do, of _always_ washing up the dishes we
dirty, and _always_ picking up the things we drop. Seems as though I'd
die happy, if I could just step out of my nightgown in the morning and
_leave_ it there, and know that it would get hung up without my doing
"Well, if that's all you want, to die happy," said Judith, the
literal-minded, "I will do that much for you!"
"Oh gracious, no! That wouldn't do any good! You know I couldn't take
any satisfaction letting _you_ do that!" objected Sylvia, peevishly,
fuming and fumbling helplessly before the baffling quality of her
desires. "I don't want just somebody to pick it up for me. I want it
picked up by somebody that I don't care about, that I don't see, that
I'd just as soon have do the tiresome things as not. I want somebody
to do it, and me to feel all right about _having_ them do it!"
"Well, for goodness' sakes!" Judith was reduced again to mere wonder.
Professor and Mrs. Marshall stepped into the kitchen for a moment to
see that everything was progressing smoothly. The professor had his
viola in his hand and was plucking softly at the strings, a pleasant,
tranquil anticipation of harmony on his face. He looked affectionately
at his daughters and thought what dear good children they were. Judith
appealed to her parents: "Sylvia's as crazy as a loon. She says she
wants somebody to do her work for her, and yet she wants to feel all
right about shirking it!"
Mrs. Marshall did not follow, and did not care. "What?" she said
indifferently, tasting the chicken-salad in the big yellow bowl, and,
with an expression of serious consideration, adding a little more salt
But Sylvia's father understood, "What you want to remember, daughter,"
he said, addressing himself to his oldest child with a fond certainty
of her quick apprehension, "is that fine saying of Emerson, 'What will
you have, quoth--'" A raw-boned assistant appeared in the doorway.
"Everybody here, I guess, Perfesser," he said.
When the girls were alone again, Sylvia stole a look at Judith and
broke into noiseless giggles. She laughed till the tears ran down her
cheeks and she had to stop work and go to the kitchen sink to wash
her face and take a drink of water. "You never do what you say you're
going to," said Judith, as gravely alien to this mood as to the other.
"I thought you said you'd scream."
"I _am_ screaming," said Sylvia, wiping her eyes again.
They were very familiar with the work of preparing the simple
"refreshments" for University gatherings. Their mother always
provided exactly the same viands, and long practice had made them
letter-perfect in the moves to be made. When they had finished
portioning off the lettuce-leaves and salad on the plates, they
swiftly set each one on a fresh crepe-paper napkin. Sylvia professed
an undying hatred for paper napkins. "I don't see why," said Judith.
"They're so much less bother than the other kind when you're only
going to use them once, this way." "That's it," asserted Sylvia;
"that's the very stingy, economical thing about them I hate, their
_not_ being a bother! I'd like to use big, fine-damask ones, all
shiny, that somebody had ironed twenty minutes, every one, like those
we had at Eleanor Hubert's birthday party. And then I'd scrunch them
up and throw them in the laundry if there was the least speck on
"I wouldn't like the job of doing them up," said Judith.
"Neither would I. I'd hate it! And I wouldn't," continued Sylvia,
roaming at will in her enchanted garden; "I'd hire somebody to take
all the bother of buying them and hemming them and doing them up and
putting them on the table. All I'd do, would be to shake them out and
lay them across my lap," she went through a dainty-fingered pantomime,
"and never think a thing about how they got there. That's all _I_ want
to do with napkins. But I do love 'em big and glossy. I could _kiss_
Judith was almost alarmed at the wildness of Sylvia's imaginings.
"Why, you talk as though you didn't have good sense tonight, Sylvie.
It's the party. You always get so excited over parties." Judith
considered it a "come-down" to get excited over anything.
"Great Scotland! I guess I don't get excited over one of these
_student_ parties!" Sylvia repudiated the idea. "All Father's
'favorite students' are such rough-necks. And it makes me tired to
have all our freaks come out of their holes when we have company--Miss
Lindstroem and Mr. Hecht and Cousin Parnelia and all."
"The President comes," advanced Judith.
Sylvia was sweeping in her iconoclasm. "What if he does--old
fish-mouth! _He's_ nobody--he's a rough-neck himself. He used to be a
Baptist minister. He's only President because he can talk the hayseeds
in the Legislature into giving the University big appropriations. And
anyhow, he only comes here because he _has_ to--part of his job. He
doesn't like the freaks any better than I do. The last time he
was here, I heard Cousin Parnelia trying to persuade him to have
planchette write him a message from Abraham Lincoln. Isn't she the
The girls put off their aprons and slipped into the big, low-ceilinged
living-room, singing like a great sea-shell with thrilling
violin-tones. Old Reinhardt was playing the Kreutzer, with Professor
Marshall at the piano. Judith went quietly to sit near Professor
Kennedy, and Sylvia sat down near a window, leaning her head against
the pane as she listened, her eyes fixed on the blackness outside.
Her face cleared and brightened, like a cloudy liquor settling to
limpidity in a crystal vase. Her lips parted a little, her eyes were
fixed on a point incalculably distant. Her mind emptied itself of
everything but her joy in the glorious cadences....
If she had been asked what she and Judith had been talking of, she
could not have told; but when, after the second movement was finished,
old Reinhardt put down his violin and began to loosen his bow (he
never played the presto finale), it all came back to the girl as she
looked around her at her father's guests. She hated the way the young
men's Adam's apples showed through their too-widely opened collars,
and she loathed the way the thin brown hair of one of the co-eds
was strained back from her temples. She received the President's
condescending, oleaginous hand-shake with a qualm at his loud
oratorical voice and plebeian accent, and she headed Cousin Parnelia
off from a second mediumistic attack, hating her badly adjusted
false-front of hair as intensely as ever Loyola hated a heretic. And
this, although uncontrollably driven by her desire to please, to
please even a roomful of such mediocrities, she bore to the outward
eyes the most gracious aspect of friendly, smiling courtesy. Professor
Marshall looked at her several times, as she moved with her slim young
grace among his students and friends, and thought how fortunate he was
in his children.
After the chicken-salad and coffee had been successfully served and
eaten, one of the Seniors stepped forward with an awkward crudeness
and presented Professor Marshall with a silver-mounted blotting-pad.
The house was littered with such testimonials to the influence of the
Professor on the young minds under his care, testimonials which his
children took as absolutely for granted as they did everything else in
the home life. On this occasion Sylvia was so afflicted because the
young rustic appointed to make the presentation speech, forgot most of
what he had planned to say, that she felt nothing but the liveliest
impatience with the whole proceeding. But her father's quick heart was
touched, and more than half of his usual little speech of farewell
to his Seniors was an expression of thanks to them. Before he had
finished the last part, which consisted of eloquent exhortations
to the higher life, none the less sincerely heartfelt for being
remarkably like similar speeches he had made during the last twenty
years, he had quoted his favorite saying from Emerson. Judith looked
apprehensively at Sylvia; but she was not laughing. She evidently was
not hearing a word her father said, being lost in the contemplation
of the perfect evening costume of the newest assistant in Professor
Marshall's department. He was a young man from Massachusetts, fresh
from Harvard, who had come West to begin his teaching that year. His
was certainly the most modern dress-suit in the University faculty;
and he wore it with a supercilious disregard for its perfections which
greatly impressed Sylvia.
After these usual formalities were thus safely past, some one
suggested a game of charades to end the evening. Amid great laughter
and joking from the few professors present and delighted response
from the students who found it immensely entertaining to be on such
familiar terms with their instructors, two leaders began to "choose
sides." The young assistant from Harvard said in a low tone to his
friend, not noticing Professor Marshall's young daughter near them:
"They won't really go on and _do_ this fool, undignified, backwoods
stunt, will they? They don't expect us to join _in_!"
"Oh yes, they will," answered his friend, catching up his tone of
sophisticated scorn. He too was from Harvard, from an earlier class.
"You'll be lucky if they don't have a spelling-down match, later on."
"Good Lord!" groaned the first young man.
"Oh, you mustn't think all of the University society is like _this_!"
protested the second. "And anyhow, we can slope now, without being
Sylvia understood the accent and tone of this passage more than the
exact words, but it summed up and brought home to her in a cruelly
clarified form her own groping impressions. The moment was a terribly
painful one for her. Her heart swelled, the tears came to her eyes,
she clenched her fists. Her fine, lovely, and sensitive face darkened
to a tragic intensity of resolve. She might have been the young
Hannibal, vowing to avenge Carthage. What she was saying to herself
passionately was, "When _I_ get into the University, I will _not_ be a
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